Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the most iconic track in the USA and, probably, on Earth. Everyone in the USA knows about Indy. I remember watching the Formula 1 race back home in Scotland in 2006 where there was a tire issue and only 6 cars started the race. The race was won by my favourite driver, at that time, Michael Schumacher. Even though F1 only raced there for a few years, it was very cool to see those cars race on that famous track.
I had never been to the track before but I was pretty confident based on the fact that CJWR finished fourth here in 2012. That being said we knew the flat banking and the long front straight would hurt us but on the infield sections our ModSpace MX-5 was going to be a rocket ship!
I was scheduled to start the race. My team mate, Marc [Miller], and I always keep to a strict routine where whoever starts goes out first in practice. This means we can practice live driver changes between driver swaps preparing us more for the race the conditions. I left pit lane and it immediately became apparent the track was very short on grip. It almost felt like the track had a constant layer of sand on it and it was reacting differently to any other track I had been on this season. I really enjoyed the first practice session and I was on the edge from the first corner. I adapted to the track conditions quickly and I went to P1 on the time sheet and then stayed there running quicker each lap. I think I drove for around 25 minutes before handing the car off to Marc. I was about one tenth quicker than Pierre Kleinubing in the I-Moto car for first place so I was very happy. This was the longest Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Series session of the season and I wasn’t sure that our time would last at the top of the time sheets. To my amazement I held first place for well over the hour of the one hour and fifty minute session before being pushed back a few spots towards the end. Marc really liked the set up and ran within a few hundredths of my best lap so we both enjoyed the car and were ecstatic that the car came off the trailer in such an ultra-competitive condition.
The Indy event is a very compact event for us due to the the fact that we share the bill with Grand Am and the top two NASCAR Series. We had only one more practice session at noon before going straight into qualifying at 2:30pm. With such limited track time, we were glad that our pace was where it was. Chad [McCumbee] was qualifying the other CJ Wilson Racing MX-5 and we put on a show to say the least. We took over the front of the grid with Chad taking his 2nd pole of the season with me a few tenths behind. As every driver will tell you I had more in the bag, I but couldn’t get a clean lap. However I was thrilled that CJWR locked out the front row. We now had to come up with a realistic strategy that would allow us to pull away in the race.
As usual, I was awake very early on race day. I was psyched as I knew we were starting at the front at Indy and we now had to finish the job. Long before the race I went through the pits with Chad and his driving parter, Tyler McQuarrie. Tyler is a very fast driver and has settled into the CJWR team very quickly. McQuarrie is a very Scottish name and so with two Scots now on the team you can imagine we bonded quite quickly. From pit lane we watched Sprint Cup practice, it was amazing to watch those beasts going past at 190mph and go see some cool names like Juan Pablo Montoya, Danica Patrick and Marcos Ambrose. JPM’s boy, Sebastian, will be competing for MRP Motorsports this week a the Rotax Grand Nationals. I will be there coaching so it will be the third time I will get to hang out the with F1 and IndyCar legend this season. There are fans everywhere at Indy, and I do mean everywhere. They are mainly there for NASCAR but thousands do come out to watch the Grand Am racing as it is some of the best racing in the States. You get a fantastic dose of reality every time a kid walks by with a racing hat or racing t-shirt or asks for an autograph it makes me think I am honored to be driving a race car. I might not be at the highest level yet, but the simple fact that I am living out my childhood dream of driving a race car is incredible. I am very honoured to be doing it and owe many people thanks to be where I am today.
2:15pm arrived and I got strapped into the car and began the agonizing wait on the Grand Am officials to send us out on track for the first formation lap behind the pace car. My heart was beating like crazy and the longer we waited for the green flag the more adrenaline started pumping. I truly love that feeling it is what I live for.
We came round for the green flag with Chad and myself on the radio together talking about exactly what we needed to do. The plan was set and this was our chance to dominate into the opening stint. We both got a great start and I slotted in behind Chad and literally bump drafted him down the straight into turn 1. By this time were P3 and P4 as cars with superior horsepower cars could simply drive by us on the run into Turn 1. We were able to gain it all back under the braking and retake the top positions. It was all too brief for me as one of the BMW’s out braked himself and came across the grass pointing at my driver side door as I turned left into T2. I took to the grass immediately as I wasn’t prepared to let the number 5 ModSpace car’s race end in at the first corner. The evasive action dropped me to P9, right in the thick of the action. Chad had completely checked out in front so it was just me letting the side down here. What followed was one of my most satisfying stints of the season. I was very aggressive and took chances but none that I would say were risking the car being damaged. When you watch the in car camera it is pretty exciting, I really took no prisoners. I had an amazing time out there working my way back up to third behind my team mate, who had been passed for the lead. I then went by the #3 CJWR car and began to chase down the BMW that was now leading. The lead car pitted for a driver change for which handed me 3.5 second lead over my CJ Wilson Racing team mate – we were killing it! Just after the hour mark both of our cars came in for fuel and a driver change. The crew did sensational work to get us out comfortably in P1. Tyler was P6 so, based on the first stint, the whole team was in great shape. The excitement was short lived as Marc was swamped on the restart dropping to sixth while Tyler found himself in P9 within one lap. We were not able to recover and slipped down a few more places finishing eleventh. Even more disappointing was the fact that Tyler picked up a puncture putting him a lap down in P18.
So in conclusion we showed once again we have tremendous pace, great drivers and a fantastic Team of hard working guys. The end result was disappointing but everyone knows CJ Wilson’s team is one of the top teams in the Continental Tire Series this year and absolutely championship contenders going forward.
Road America is this weekend and we may struggle due to the long straights and the steep climb to the flag coming of the final turn. Marc Miller will be starting and I will take the #5 ModSpace car to the finish but we will be looking to come away with at least a spot in the top 12. If it rains then maybe we can pull something special out of the bag but if we can walk away with a top 12 we will be very happy.